I, Robot

I am part man, part machine.

I grew up in the 20th century, and like most people outside the science fiction community, I thought that the 21st century was beyond the furthest reaches of possibility.  It  was Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that first opened my eyes to  what the future might hold.

However, it was Isaac Asimov who wrote about my life.  I, Robot – his short story collection first published in 1950 – first taught me about what I could achieve, if I would only allow myself to succeed.

Before all that came Latin.  The first Latin word I learnt was one that I was familiar with even before I went to school:  Hydrocephalus.  To those of you untutored in the rigours of Julius Caesar’s mother tongue, it means ‘water on the brain’.


Here’s the science bit:  The brain is bathed in cerebral fluid.  Like Winston Churchill, I was born with an excess of this crucial soup.  Luckily for me, in 1961, three years before I was born, a shunt (a glorified plastic syringe mechanism), was invented by two chaps called Spitz and Holzer.  One was an engineer (his son was born with Hydrocephalus), the other a doctor.  Which one was which, I forget; the engineer’s son, the first recipient of the shunt, died the year I was born.  When I was four days old, and not yet having been formally introduced to my mother, a neurosurgeon cut open my head and inserted a shunt whose job it was to drain the excess fluid from my brain.


Space Oddities on a club run

One of the compensations for the regular hospital visits, and handful of operations I had growing up (the last of which took place in March 1979) was that I didn’t have to do Maths at (what was then called) ‘O’ Level.  I was the envy of my peers, I can tell you.  In a nutshell, people with Hydrocephalus tend either to be very bad at maths, or unusually gifted.

For those of you expecting some thoughts on the merry world of wheels, thank you for your patience.  Along with mathematical mixamatosis Hydrocephalus can also affect balance and spatial orientation.  I spent much of my early adolescence practising walking backwards in a straight line, balancing an iron rod on my head while walking in circles and other such off-the-sofa pastimes .  No, really.  And all under the unlikely supervision of the kind-hearted school nurse Fraulein Woolf.  So, for me, pedalling on two wheels, and avoiding crashes, represents the fruit of much work.

I am writing this in the early hours of the last day of October.  The clocks have just gone back, and the silt of dark afternoons will start to seep through the streets now, until January.  I appreciate that for many people this abrupt snuffing out of light is hard.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) pushes many people, of an otherwise robust mental disposition, onto the ropes and staggering to find their emotional equilibrium at this time of year.  Light boxes can provide an effective remedy for this.  Click on the link to find out more:  http://www.electronichealing.co.uk/products/sadlightbox.htm

As for me, throughout the Spring and Summer I yearn for the eiderdown of Autumn’s rich colours, and the comfort it brings.  Hibernation is a great healer, and I can store up mental reserves in preparation for the scrutiny that the  eye of the sun seems to make of me in the Spring, asking questions that I struggle to answer.

Although most of you will be reading this in November, and despite the fact that I was thirty way back in 1994, both the rhythms and the sentiments in this verse by one of Swansea’s finest sons,  send peals of hope clattering in my ears every time I read it.


Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

Dylan Thomas (1914 -1953)


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